Inauguration Day

inauguration

Tomorrow, January 20, is Inauguration Day in America. Donald John Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. However, some may question that number.

Actually, Grover Cleveland is counted as both the 22nd and 24th President. He was elected, then lost, then won again four years later. The factual way to count U.S. Presidents is to say Donald Trump will be the 45th President but only the 44th person ever to take the oath of office.

Nearly one million people are estimated to be in Washington D.C. to witness the event in person. Tens of millions will view the ceremony across the country and around the world.

Interestingly, crowd size estimators use aerial images from satellites, helicopters and balloons, plus basic math. Three pieces of information are needed: the total area of the space, the proportion of the area that is occupied, and the density of the crowd. But I digress.

More important than the number of people who witness the inauguration, whether in person or via electronic media, is the meaning of the event. In many countries around the world, leadership transitions are less than peaceful. Historically, nations of the world have experienced change in leadership following a decisive battle, a horrific insurrection, or a regal beheading.

Not so in America. Notwithstanding protests from individuals and groups regarding the legitimacy of this presidential election, the fact remains that tomorrow we will witness the non-universal phenomenon of a mostly peaceful transition of presidential power.

Of course we’ve been told to expect demonstrators. That’s nothing new. We’ve also seen news reports predicting thousands of motorcyclists known as “Bikers for Trump” who are expected to provide unofficial security at the event. That’s not quite as common.

Tomorrow will come. Tomorrow will go. Your life and mine might not be discernibly different, at least for now. But like it or not, change will occur. Some change will be good, some not. It’s not a simple task to lead what is arguably the most powerful country in the world.

Regardless of whether our new president views prayer the way most Christians do, the best suggestion I can offer today is that we hold our new leader and our country in our prayers. Here’s one suggestion from Lutheran Service Book’s Prayer for Responsible Citizenship:

“Lord, keep this nation under your care. Bless the leaders of our land that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to the other nations of the earth. Grant that we may choose trustworthy leaders, contribute to wise decisions for the general welfare, and serve you faithfully in our generation; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

 

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Elections

votingThe topic of elections is one I never thought would be as significant in my life as it has become. Little did I know while growing up that elections would direct the course of my life and career.

Some elections occurred early, including leadership roles in Future Farmers of America, Walther League, Gamma Delta, Phi Eta Sigma, and Texas A&M Corps of Cadets. Those were religious, extracurricular, and academic organizations of my high school and college years. It wasn’t until I entered pastoral ministry that elections impacted my professional career.

There were elections by voters’ assemblies of congregations extending calls for me to be their pastor. I accepted two and declined many others. There was an election by a mission board to be a mission developer and another by a different board of directors to serve as a leader of Lutheran Foundation of Texas. A more recent election by the current board of that organization means I’ll begin serving next month in the same role I occupied 25 years ago.

On a broader scale, there were four elections to the office of district president of our statewide church in Texas by 600 delegates at each election, followed by three elections to the office of national church president by 1200 delegates at each election. The fourth election to that office turned out to be an un-election, which was an invitation for me to leave that office.

Sadly, that last election was characterized by organized negative publicity that included rumors, mischaracterizations, half-truths, and downright lies. Nothing is more disappointing than witnessing a group of people, sacred or secular, conducting pre-election campaigning against honorable men or women willing to serve to the best of their ability if elected.

We saw a great deal of that type of campaigning in the recent U.S. presidential election. We see it also in other campaigns of lesser import. In some cases, we don’t see it but it’s happening nevertheless, under a shroud of secrecy. How sad it is that the presence of sin in our lives prompts unkind, untruthful, unbecoming behavior that elevates one person and denigrates another.

In a perfect world, voters would be simply but earnestly encouraged to exercise their right and privilege of electing the most qualified candidate for any office for which an election is held. We don’t live in a perfect world.

It’s my conviction not to participate in any such negative behavior. I don’t mean that in a pietistic way. I simply speak the truth that’s in my heart. I encourage you to do the same. Ignore and do not participate in uncharitable campaigning. Better yet, discourage it. Speak out against it.

Martin Luther’s explanation of the Eighth Commandment says it quite well: “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully belie, betray, slander, nor defame our neighbor, but defend him, speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.” So be it!

Political and Ecclesiastical Nominees

Luther's Coat of ArmsOnly those who have been living in a cave for several months are unaware of the remarkable distinctions among the candidates eager to occupy the Oval Office in the White House. Areas of disagreement exist, both within major political parties and across party lines. These differences include positions on everything from the economy to immigration to Supreme Court appointees to foreign policy and more. Some differences are minor. Others are vitally significant.

Perhaps not quite so obvious to some are similar distinctions in the ecclesiastical world, particularly that of my own church body, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. Nominees for the office of national president to be elected in the coming months have been announced. All three candidates are clergymen in good standing on the Synod’s roster of ordained ministers of the Gospel. They all also strongly profess allegiance to the authority of Holy Scripture and to the Lutheran Confessions as a correct interpretation of Scripture. We would expect and accept nothing less.

That commitment works well where basic matters of faith and life are concerned but not so well for issues on which Holy Scripture and the Confessions may be silent or non-conclusive or on which varying interpretations simply are not in agreement. Basic general commitment to these important documents does not necessarily imply concurrence among these men on matters of importance for the future of the LCMS. Here are some topics on which LCMS nominees might differ:

  • View of the role of the church in society.
  • Flexibility or rigidity in worship style and content.
  • Interpretation of the biblical doctrine of eternal election.
  • Attitude toward clergy participation in public civic events.
  • Application of biblical principles of inter-Christian relationships.
  • Understanding and commitment to the mission of Christ’s Church.
  • Approach to biblical interpretation of the role of women in the church.
  • Evangelical or stringent attitude toward administration of the Sacraments.

In addition to that list, other important considerations differentiate candidates from one another in both the political and ecclesiastical arenas. These include personal integrity, courage, management style, leadership effectiveness, ability to work well with others, trustworthiness, collaborative spirit, loyalty and moderation in all things. A basic question many people ask is whether they would be proud to be represented by the person elected to the office of president of the nation or the church.

In the political arena, personal attacks and ad hominem criticisms prevail. In the ecclesiastical arena of the LCMS, what used to be a highly politicized process for electing a national president prior to and during the triennial national convention has been replaced by an electronic balloting process several weeks prior to the convention. More than any other factor, that new process has contributed greatly to the peaceful climate of recent national conventions.

My prayer is for that kind of spirit to prevail, both politically and ecclesiastically, and for the leader selected in each realm to lead and govern faithfully, responsibly and effectively!

Pope Francis in the U.S.

Pope FrancisFor the first time in his papacy—and his life—Pope Francis is visiting the United States. This week he is traveling through Washington, D.C., New York and Philadelphia. Hundreds of thousands of people are anticipating the chance to see him during his time here in our country. Tickets for public masses, papal parades and even public transportation are highly coveted.

During the first part of his six-day, three-city visit to the U.S., the pope met with President Obama and today will address the U.S. Congress. Later today he will travel to New York, where he will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and address the United Nations. Over the weekend he will take part in a Vatican-sponsored conference on families in Philadelphia. The official version of the Pope’s entire schedule is posted below.

Pope Francis, the 266th pope, was elected at the age of 76, is the first Jesuit pope and the first pope from the Americas. One report I read reminds us that the pope is not a politician, he’s a priest and that, despite what the American media might say of his objectives, this trip is the pope’s opportunity to focus more on things spiritual than things political. I hope that’s true.

I’ll take the risk here of sharing a few brief thoughts about popes and the Catholic Church. Quite often, when making a presentation on The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and its place in world Christendom, I compare the pope to the president of the LCMS. Here’s what I say:

The LCMS president has spiritual connection with approximately two million people, mostly in the United States. The pope has connection with over one billion people all across the globe. That’s one thousand million, which is 500 times more than the LCMS.

On November 26, 2001, just a few months after Terry and I sold our home and left our family in Texas to move to St. Louis to assume the office of president of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, I underwent radical prostatectomy. Not many folks other than our family, my senior staff and a number of close friends knew about my surgery. That same week, Pope John Paul II had a cold and sore throat. He made front page news around the world! I fully understand the reason.

Our Lutheran Confessions refer to the papacy as the antichrist. This characterization is often understood to describe individual popes who conducted their ministry in less than God pleasing ways, especially the popes in office during the time leading up to the 16th century Reformation. Not nearly as many Lutherans today as in the past consider the pope the antichrist.

The Roman Catholic Church has different understandings of eternity than most of the rest of Christianity, including the existence of purgatory. Catholics are still assigned acts of penance and encouraged to purchase indulgences. While faith in Christ is emphasized, so is praying to saints. Papal infallibility, seven sacraments rather than just two, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary are also upheld. Lutherans and other Christians respectfully disagree with these beliefs.

For the record, our Lutheran understanding of eternity is simply this: We believe we are saved for eternity by grace, through faith in Christ our Lord, and not by works of the law. Because of the perfect fulfilling of the law by Christ and his vicarious atonement for our sins on Calvary’s cross, our sins are forgiven, both temporally and eternally. Heaven is a free gift of God’s grace, which we in no way deserve and for which we will be eternally grateful.

Notwithstanding the differences noted and a few others as well, which are not insignificant, I consider Roman Catholics our sisters and brothers in Christ. They, together with Lutherans and other Christians, confess their faith in The Apostles’ Creed, The Nicene Creed and The Athanasian Creed. Roman Catholics are not our greatest spiritual enemies. That designation belongs to Satan, the world, our own sinful flesh and Islam. I’ll say more about the last topic on that list in the weeks ahead.

In the meantime, welcome to the U.S., Pope Francis. I’m glad you’re here!

U.S. Itinerary for Pope Francis

Tuesday, Sept. 22

4 p.m.: Pope Francis arrives in U.S. at Joint Base Andrews just outside of Washington. He will be greeted by President Obama.

Wednesday, Sept. 23

9:15 a.m.: Pope Francis will appear at an official welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn then meet with President Obama.

11 a.m.: The Pope will parade around the Ellipse just south of the White House and the National Mall.

11:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will pray with U.S. bishops at D.C.’s St. Matthew’s Cathedral.

4:30p.m.: The Pope will canonize Junípero Serra during a mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Thursday, Sept. 24

10a.m.: Speech before a Joint Session of Congress followed by an appearance on the West Front of the Capitol at 11 a.m.

11:15 a.m.: The Pope will visit St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in D.C. and Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, where he is expected to meet with clients of the St. Maria’s Meals program who will have gathered for lunch, including some who are homeless or live in shelters

4p.m.: Pope Francis heads to New York where he’ll land by 5 p.m.

6:45 p.m.: The Pope will conduct evening prayer at St. Patrick’s Cathedral near New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Friday, Sept. 25

8:30 a.m.: Pope Francis will address the United Nations General Assembly, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. The Pope is also expected to attend bilateral meetings with the U.N. Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.

11:30 a.m.: The Pope will pray, meet with families and deliver an address at a multi-religious service at the Sept. 11 memorial and museum at the site of the World Trade Center.

4 p.m.: Before taking his motorcade through Central Park, the Pope will visit a third grade class at Our Lady Queen of Angels school, a 120-year-old institution in East Harlem.

5 p.m.: Motorcade through West Central Park between 72nd and 60th Streets. A ticket and valid ID are required to enter.

6 p.m.: Mass at Madison Square Garden.

Saturday, Sept. 26

8:40 a.m.: Pope departs New York for final leg of the trip, arriving in Philadelphia at 9:30 a.m.

10:30 a.m.: Mass at Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, the mother church of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia

4:45 p.m.: The Pope is expected to talk immigration and religious during an address at Independence Mall

7:30 p.m.: Visit and prayer vigil at the World Meeting of the Families on Benjamin Franklin Parkway

Sunday, Sept. 27

9:15 a.m.: The Pope will meet with Bishops at St. Martin’s Chapel, St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.

11 a.m.: Visit to Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the city’s largest jail.

4 p.m.: Mass at World Meeting of the Families.

7 p.m.: Meeting with World Meeting organizers, benefactors and volunteers.

8 p.m.: Official departure.

A Person’s Reputation

Credit: blog.entrepreneurthearts.com/

Credit: blog.entrepreneurthearts.com

Today’s article marks the end of the fifth consecutive year of Perspectives articles! While I’m occasionally tempted to cease and desist, I receive enough feedback from those who appreciate these weekly blurbs to persuade me not to stop. So, at least for now, I plan to continue.

In a previous season of my life I had a few most unpleasant experiences, putting it mildly. The particular incidents of which I’m thinking today are those affecting any person, not just me, who is the subject of a lawsuit or other biased, judgmental, defamatory communication.

While I could list a number of egregious results, the one of greatest concern is the harm done to personal and professional reputation by allegations and accusations that are totally unfounded. If you’ve ever been the target of a lawsuit or other spurious charges and allegations, you know exactly what I’m talking about. If you have not had that experience, count your blessings!

The most troublesome part of dealing with untrue or only partially true statements, written or spoken, is how to set the record straight. How can the injured (see the Fifth Commandment) person possibly tell the rest of the story, including the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, to everyone who has heard the malicious allegations?

The problem is simple but complex: The person who speaks or writes untruthfully about you communicates that hurtful message to unknown numbers of people. Some of them you know; others you don’t know. Some of them know you; others have never heard of you.

Unless these people also hear or read the actual truth about you, whether from you or others who know the person you really are, they may form a false impression as a result of what they have unilaterally heard or read. Our sinful human nature all too often delights in hearing bad things about people, even good people, including people we know and love.

The meaning of the Eighth Commandment: “We should fear and love God so that we do not tell lies about our neighbor, betray him, slander him, or hurt his reputation, but defend him, speak well of him and explain everything in the kindest way.” (Luther’s Small Catechism)

Remember those words, dear friends. And when you hear or read something derogatory about any person, check it out before believing it’s accurate and true. A person’s reputation is a blessed gift, hard earned, and way too important to discard on the testimony of anyone who is not interested in defending and speaking well of that person. My childhood Catechism used to say it this way: “We should fear and love God that we may … put the best construction on everything.”

God bless you abundantly!

Immigration

Credit: Getty Images

Credit: Getty Images

In recent months attention has been given in our country to the tens of thousands of people, including many children who are making their way to our border. Seeking admission as immigrants, many of them come from countries in Central America, where life is, in many ways, not very good. In addition to poor living conditions, violence is prevalent in their homeland.

An Associated Press article this week stated: “The U.S. government announced Monday that it will soon close three emergency shelters it established at U.S. military bases to temporarily house unaccompanied children caught crossing the Mexican border, saying the flow of illegal entries has declined and capacity at other shelters has been expanded. Since Oct. 1, more than 57,000 unaccompanied children, mostly from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, have been apprehended crossing the border. Administration officials have said as many as 90,000 child immigrants could cross the border by the end of the budget year in September. ”

While the dilemma facing our country is probably a whole lot more complex than most of us realize, two issues come quickly to my mind:

  1. The freedom they seek is not free. Somebody has to pay for the food, clothing, shelter and education needed to survive and to thrive in our country. That burden falls mostly on the federal government and/or the communities in which these modern day immigrants ultimately settle. Some communities simply say they cannot afford to bear that burden or that they do not want to be responsible for the care of illegal immigrants.
  1. Immigrants are children of the heavenly Father. Simply to turn them away, many miles from the homes and families they left, is difficult to reconcile with biblical injunctions such as the words of our Lord Jesus himself: “I was hungry and you fed me…I was a stranger and you welcomed me…As you did this to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matt. 5:35, 40)

There are many considerations to this dilemma in addition to the two mentioned above. The issue of immigration has legal, moral, biblical, humanitarian, spiritual and emotional components.

If there were an easy solution, someone would have suggested it by now. To ignore the problem, hoping it and the children at the center of the controversy will simply go away, is irresponsible.

Individual Christians, who are also law abiding American citizens, have something to say and many things to do. Let our voice be heard! Let our love be seen! Let God’s grace abound!

Politics in the Church

Credit:  Aram Vartian

Credit: Aram Vartian

Last week I read correspondence from two esteemed church leaders about church politics and centralized power. Both are public, selectively quoted here with authors’ permission.

One leader wrote: “Church politics. Maybe you have seen the ways of worldly politics at work even in your local congregation. The same tactics can also creep into district and synod gatherings as well. Sometimes, it can get unpleasant or even downright ugly.”

“While Christ-centered, diplomatic attempts at proper persuasion can honor God and move the Savior’s mission forward, the temptation to copy the political ways of the world can cause offense and get in the way of our witness to the welcoming love of Jesus.”

The other leader wrote: “In recent dealings with an entity that believes power should be centralized and politicized, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this quote: ‘I do not trust people who don’t love themselves and yet tell me, ‘I love you.’ There is an African saying: ‘Be careful when a naked person offers you a shirt.’”

Having personally experienced both positive and negative church politics, I offer these thoughts:

  • “Politics” comes from a Greek word that literally means “of, for, or relating to citizens.”
  • Properly understood and implemented, “politics” is a neutral or even positive term.
  • Politics can be honorably utilized as well intentioned, non-self-serving, honest efforts to persuade people to pursue and achieve a purposeful and godly course of action.
  • On the other hand, politics can be sinfully and dishonorably used to gain power and control for selfish purposes that do not serve the common good.
  • Politics can even be an evil tool used to accumulate wealth, influence and notoriety not honestly earned or deserved but achieved through false witness, innuendo and wrongful allegation or accusation of those who stand in the way of those goals.
  • Politics used wrongly can injure or ruin the reputation of individuals and organizations.
  • Contrary to the opinion of those who use politics wrongly, the end does not justify the means of political activities lacking integrity and godly motivation!

The only proper use for politics, especially in the church, is truthful and objective description of reality as it currently exists, followed by presentation of a positive plan for accomplishing honorable and godly goals. The process will be truly blessed if it promotes positive objectives, helps people holistically, honors the Eighth Commandment, and is motivated by the love of Christ.